More dragonflies are being seen - this time it was a Common darter, Sympetrum striolatum, spotted at the vegetable garden and, like last week’s Brown hawker, it was resting and therefore not difficult to photograph. This one was on the ground, rather than up in a tree, so at least no step ladder was needed this time.
Common darter dragonflies can be found all over the UK, especially where still water is found, such as near lakes and garden ponds, and they fly for much of the year. They’re widespread away from water too and then they can be spotted sitting on the tops of plants or gate posts, waiting for prey to fly by, when they will ‘dart’ after it. As adults they will consume large numbers of gnats and midges, making them welcome in gardens. As larvae, they live in the ponds where the eggs are laid and hunt aquatic insects and tadpoles amongst the plants, before emerging a year later, climbing up a suitable plant stem (arrowhead - Sagittaria sagittifolia – for example) to hatch out into their adult forms, generally leaving the larval case still clinging to the stem.
There is more than one red dragonfly, so it’s worth knowing some distinguishing features. The Common darter is easily confused with the Ruddy darter, but there are a couple of things to look out for – the Common darter has regular dark spots down the length of its abdomen, which the Ruddy darter (Sympetrum sanguineum) lacks and the Common darter is orange-red, rather than the blood-red of the Ruddy darter. The females, which lack the bright colouring of the males, are far more difficult to tell apart, generally being shades of yellow to brown.
Looking at the pictures on the computer, it’s always interesting to zoom in and look at the parts of an insect that you don’t notice when looking at them in the field. I was again taken by the hooks on the ends of the dragonfly’s feet and by the attractive gradations in colour on the thorax.
Coming back to hatching, if you have a few hours to spare in early summer and are lucky enough to spot a dragonfly hatching, it’s fascinating to watch the initially crumpled-looking adult very slowly struggle out of its casing and finally lose the creases from its drying wings. Once filled out, the adult is so much larger than the larva that you wonder how it could ever have fitted in such a tiny space and speculate on how it must feel to change form in such a way. Is it uncomfortable, or just a relief to be out of that tight jacket and now able to spread glistening wings and then take flight? Something to ponder, isn’t it.
Good close-up of a Ruddy darter.